CareTrak, a system that uses radio technology to keep track of individuals with a tendency to wander off, has been available in Lincoln County for almost a year – but so far, the program has had no takers. 

CareTrak caters to people who have mental conditions that may cause them to wander from their home. Examples include Alzheimer’s, dementia and other memory loss diseases in seniors, and autism or other developmental disabilities in younger children. The system uses telemetry technology to track down people who have a tendency to wander away by having the potential wanderer wear a bracelet with a transmitter in it. The Troy Police Department then has a receiver device that can pick up on the location of the transmitter bracelet to within an inch of its exact location. 

The County Health Department bought the system with grants and donations last July, but since then has not had anyone sign up for it. The largest reason for no one taking advantage of this tracking system may lie in how it appeals to a small niche of individuals. Jennifer Harris, director of programs with the Lincoln County Health Department, explained some of the unique qualities of the system that may have prevented buy-in by community members. 

“Its robust, it’s going to work through lots of different weather conditions, building conditions, that sort of thing,” Harris said. “It doesn’t rely on satellites to work, it’s basically how far away that transmitter and receiver are from each other.” 

Someone who wanders away could slip into a concrete bunker during a rainstorm and the technology could still find them – however, as Harris clarified, it only works when the transmitter and receiver are within a certain distance of each other.

Considering the CareTrak’s limited range, the system works best for individuals who have 24/7 caretakers who would notice almost immediately if they went missing. 

When the CareTrak system needs to be deployed, police simply drive to the individual’s home, and track them with the receiver from there. However, if too much time passes, there’s a higher chance that the individual will wander out of range of the telemetry. 

For example, CareTrak would not work well if the individual had access to a car, or if they live on their own with no one to notice if they wander away. 

“There may not be a huge group of people here who would want to take advantage of the program. But if there are, we want to make sure we have it for them,” Harris said. “Because we don’t want to have a situation where that individual wanders off and we could have located them.”

To enroll in the program it costs an initial $300 payment to purchase the wrist device, but after that there’s simply a $6 bi-monthly fee to change the battery. 

“We do have some options available for families who may not be able to afford that initial $300. Other than that, the agencies that are involved in this are all donating their staff time or it falls under their normal response activities,” Harris said on the expense of the program. 

With all the equipment already purchased, the county isn’t paying any monthly subscriptions for the system, so the technology is sitting there until it might be useful for someone.

“Anytime anybody wanders, it’s a really difficult situation for the family. We always hope that has a happy ending. This is really for the people who are most vulnerable who if they should wander they would be at the most risk,” Harris said.

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